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Are psychopaths happy?

Last week I had people vote on Linkedin and Instagram and overwhelmingly people wanted to know if psychopaths are happy. This week, you’ll discover what a psychopath is, what psychopaths generally receive as a diagnosis, why psychopathy is difficult to treat and finally, learn if psychopaths are happy.

Ok, before we even start, you are probably not a psychopath!!!

If you’re like me the entire time I was reading about psychopaths I got scared that I was one. About 29% of the population is shown to have at least one psychopathic trait, but only 0.6% meet the criteria of actual psychopaths.

In other words, you’re probably fine, but if you’re like me and you still want to check, I took this quiz.

What is psychopathy?

Psychopathy is one of the most widely used terms in popular media to describe villains in the public eye. Psychopaths are characterised as people like Joe from YOU or Ted Bundy, but not all psychopaths are completely destructive members of society.

Psychopathy in itself is similar to narcissism and both share low levels of empathy, agreeableness and humility. Psychopaths tend to be less long-term thinkers and commonly have problems with impulse control.

Although there is no cure for psychopathy, people can be taught to control their symptoms. Keep in mind, psychopathy isn’t actually a mental health diagnosis and instead is generally diagnosed as Anti Social Personality Disorder (ASPD). Psychopathy characteristics overlap with symptoms of antisocial personality disorder, a broader mental health condition used to describe people who chronically act out and break rules.

What is Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)?

Only a small number of individuals with antisocial personality disorder are considered to be psychopaths, but we’ll focus on this criteria because it has an agreed-upon definition in the DSM-5. People with ASPD are able to feel anger and rage but unable to experience fear and dissatisfaction. In order to receive a diagnosis of ASPD, a person must show a pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.

This is indicated by three or more of the below criteria according to the DSM-5:

  • failure to conform to social norms concerning lawful behaviours, such as performing acts that are grounds for arrest

  • deceitfulness, repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for pleasure or personal profit

  • impulsivity or failure to plan

  • irritability and aggressiveness, often with physical fights or assaults

  • reckless disregard for the safety of self or others

  • consistent irresponsibility, failure to sustain consistent work behaviour, or honour monetary obligations

  • lack of remorse, being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another person

Why is psychopathy hard to treat?

In 2005 a scientist named James Fallon was researching Alzheimer’s and using his healthy family members’ brain scans as a control. He was doing this while simultaneously reviewing the fMRIs of murderous psychopaths for a side project.

There was one scan that looked out of place, and it seemed as though one of the psychopath’s scans was placed in the wrong pile, but when he asked one of his researchers to look at who the scan belonged to, he was told the scan was his.

When he told people in his life about the findings, none of them seemed surprised although he was floored. This story highlights a lack of self-awareness in most psychopaths and is one of the reasons why ASPD is difficult to treat. Most people who need help often don’t believe there is a problem with their behaviour or don’t care, so people rarely seek treatment.

So... are psychopaths happy?

The question “Can psychopaths feel happiness?” is different from the question “Are psychopaths happy?”. I think the answer to the former is yes, although there isn’t much research on psychopaths specifically. Looking at the literature around ASPD and happiness, individuals with ASPD experience negative feelings more often than positive feelings, most people with ASPD can experience happiness, but their happiness often comes from a supply vs. happiness as a state of being.

The answer to the second question, “Are psychopaths happy?” leans towards it no. Psychopaths are more likely to feel bored and understimulated, but less likely to feel guilt or remorse which could lead you to think they might be happier, but Mark Holder PhD ran a study that found a negative relationship between psychopathy and levels of well-being.

The conclusion of the study explained “The results from our studies suggest that people with high levels of psychopathic tendencies are generally unhappy. They show low levels of positive emotions and life satisfaction and high levels of negative emotions and depression. Further, this unhappiness is partially explained by the poor quality of their romantic relationships.”

Enjoyed this post?

Thanks for reading! Tune in next week where we'll explore another question keeping us up at night. If you have any ideas let me know in the contact form on my page!

Questions that keep me up at night - the blog for curious people every Wednesday at 9:00am.

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